GAO sees electronic fingerprinting gains

Law Enforcement: Information on Timeliness of Criminal Fingerprint Submissions to the FBI

Law enforcement agencies have increased the volume and timeliness of fingerprints submitted electronically to an FBI database, Congressional auditors found.

Law enforcement officials use the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System to identify criminals and submit fingerprints to keep the national database updated.

"The FBI's goal under IAFIS is to ultimately achieve paperless processing and to provide a response within two hours to users who submit criminal fingerprints electronically," a General Accounting Office report states. "Maximizing the benefits of rapid responses under IAFIS depends largely on how quickly criminal fingerprints are submitted by local and state law enforcement agencies."

For the eight-month period between October 2002 and May 2003, the submission time for fingerprints was 40 days, which includes manual and electronic submissions, GAO officials found. Although this is faster than the 118 days it took seven years ago, there is still room for improvement, GAO officials said.

The number of fingerprints submitted electronically has increased annually, and more states' agencies can submit prints on the same day they are taken, the report states. Many jurisdictions still have delays because of a lack of automation and large print backlogs.

At the implementation of IAFIS in 1999, 45 percent of print submissions were electronic, and in the first four months of 2003, 70 percent were electronic, the report states. As of April 2003, 42 states and Washington, D.C., were submitting some portion of their prints electronically.

"Additional states soon may have the capability to submit criminal fingerprints electronically," the report states. "For instance, two of the five states we visited in summer 2003 (Connecticut and Nevada) had not begun routinely submitting criminal fingerprints to the FBI electronically but expected to do so in the future."

Further, almost 30 percent of the fingerprints entered into the system were entered on the same day of the arrest, according to the GAO report.

"Such same day submissions are achievable when the entire process is electronic, with law enforcement taking fingerprints using Livescan devices that transmit the fingerprints electronically to the state criminal history repository — which, in turn, transmits the fingerprints electronically to the FBI," the report states.

The FBI has been working with states to provide funding and technical assistance to encourage agencies to submit prints electronically. FBI officials identified the need for more scanning devices and the upgrade of state's systems to be compatible with IAFIS, but budget constraints will continue to keep this investment from being a top priority, according to the GAO.

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